Dáil Éireann - Volume 483 - 25 November, 1997

Private Members' Business. - Protection of Workers (Shops) Bill, 1997: Second Stage.

Mr. Broughan: I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

It is an honour for me to introduce this Bill, which provides one of the most essential safeguards for workers as the economy develops. I am also honoured to introduce the Bill on behalf of the Labour Party. It is my first experience of introducing a Bill to the House and I am gratified that it constitutes important legislation.

The Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Tom [566] Kitt, will be aware that the Bill is almost identical to the legislation he introduced to the House last November which was debated in March. Given his appointment as Minister of State with special responsibility for labour affairs, why did he not reintroduce his Bill? Failing that, why does he not accept this Bill?

It is astonishing that it has fallen to the Labour Party to introduce, in the form of legislation, a core principle which Fianna Fáil espoused when in Opposition. At that time, the Minister of State met and discussed widely with all the bodies involved, including RGDATA, business organisations such as IBEC and the trade unions, including MANDATE and SIPTU. It is extraordinary, therefore, that the introduction of this legislation is not his priority. In drafting the Bill I took account of the Organisation of Working Time Act, which my colleague, Eithne Fitzgerald, introduced to the Dáil last year.

The Government has been only five months in office yet it has already engaged in U-turns on a range of issues across the political spectrum. My colleague, Deputy Quinn, noted last week that the Labour Party in Government was castigated by Fianna Fáil when in Opposition regarding public spending, yet it has now made a remarkable U-turn in that area. Similar U-turns have occurred on hospital waiting lists and crime. What is the position of the Minister for Justice and Law Reform on zero tolerance?

In failing to introduce his own Bill, the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, has made the most cynical and hard hearted U-turn. During the debate on the Bill last March, Deputies Kitt and Cullen, both of them now Ministers of State, castigated the then Government and the then Minister of State, Eithne FitzGerald, despite her acceptance of the Bill. It was immediately referred to the Select Committee on Enterprise and Economic Strategy where there would have been a full scale debate to allow for necessary amendments to the Bill and core legislation would have been on the Statute Book. The Minister of State accused the former Minister of State, Deputy Fitzgerald, and the rainbow Government of reneging on their commitments to provide the necessary legal protection for employees in the retail sector. He spoke of the rainbow Government turning its back on thousands of workers in this sector.

He has blatantly, coldly and callously turned his back on retail workers, some of our most vulnerable people, having consulted them and introduced legislation. In the same debate the Minister of State, Deputy Cullen, lamented the fact that only Fianna Fáil had its finger on the pulse of the nation. One must contemplate the crass impudence of that remark considering what has happened over the past five months and that the Labour Party has forced the Minister of State to live up to his words. How cynical and barefaced the comments by the present Fianna Fáil Ministers of State seem six months later. Their betrayal of retail workers is even more scandalous given the [567] clear commitments made by the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, to MANDATE and SIPTU and the workers they represent.

A few months before the general election, seven Labour Deputies met their MANDATE colleagues in Wynn's Hotel, Abbey Street, Dublin, while the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, represented Fianna Fáil. He was the only non-Labour Party Deputy at the meeting where he pledged to put a protection of workers Bill on the Statute Book and made a firm commitment on a referendum on Sunday trading.

Mr. T. Kitt: The Deputy keeps misquoting me. I do not know where he got those statements.

Mr. Broughan: I was at the meeting for the entire afternoon and attended discussions after the meeting. Most of my colleagues contributed to the discussions at which the Minister of State made firm commitments.

Mr. T. Kitt: I do not remember seven Labour Party TDs being present, only Deputies Broughan and Costello.

Mr. Broughan: Deputies Upton and Shortall were there too.

Mr. T. Kitt: That is only four.

Mr. Broughan: There was a major turnout — seven TDs. We were on our way to another meeting that evening on behalf of our party. The Minister of State made firm commitments and had some glib criticism for Deputy Fitzgerald which implied she had not attempted to legislate key protections for Sunday workers in the Organisation of Working Time Act.

Mr. T. Kitt: I always treated the Minister of State, Deputy Fitzgerald, with respect as she was a constituency colleague.

Mr. Broughan: I accept that but the general drift of the Minister of State's comments were pledges to introduce a Bill similar to this and to hold a referendum dealing with the substantive issue of Sunday trading. Deputy Fitzgerald was criticised on this issue and glib comments were made by the Minister of State regarding the introduction of a referendum. More than seven months later and after five months in Government he has shamefully abandoned his promises and has shown once again that a commitment from a Fianna Fáil spokesperson is not worth the paper it is written on.

In the past couple of months workers in TEAM Aer Lingus and Telecom Éireann brought to our attention documents signed by the present Taoiseach containing promises — in the case of the TEAM Aer Lingus workers by the Minister's constituency colleague, Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Séamus Brennan, a number of years ago when TEAM [568] Aer Lingus was established. Now these promises seem to have been disgracefully abandoned, just like the promise to legislate in this case. Tonight the Labour Party is giving the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, and the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, a chance to keep their pledge. We have brought back their own Bill because it contains a vital principle of protection for retail workers, namely, the principle of consent, of workers being requested to work on Sundays only on a voluntary basis and protection against discrimination for workers who choose not to work on Sunday.

Throughout our State's history workers in many sectors have been required to work on Sundays. In the areas of health and hospitals, public transport and entertainment, workers have traditionally carried out essential Sunday work for our society, and the Labour movement and our trade union colleagues have, throughout that long period, endeavoured to protect those workers through the Joint Labour Committee regulations and decisions, by local or company agreements and, above all, in the past ten or 11 years, by national agreements. The refusal to bring forward this Bill is a dreadful indictment of the Fianna Fáil Party's attitude to Partnership 2000 and to any future extension of the partnership developed over the past ten years.

Mr. T. Kitt: I want to deal with it through partnership.

Mr. Broughan: I hope the Minister will. What could be the attitude of the Minister of State and his Government to partnership agreements if, on a very basic issue such as this, they require retail workers to enter into national agreements and on one basic principle of civil and working rights, namely, the right to opt out of Sunday working, they are absolutely refusing to proceed? By his crass refusal to act, to adopt this Bill and put it into law, the Minister is endangering one of the central achievements in the management of our economy over the past ten or 11 years. When their representatives go to the table to discuss the next national pay and conditions agreement, workers in the retail sector will certainly be justified in feeling that the Minister's performance on this matter does not give much cause for hope for a continuation of partnership. The partnership approach has been essential to the development of the Celtic tiger. Traditionally, workers have been protected regarding Sunday work by joint labour agreements and local and national agreements. Traditionally small corner shops and sole traders have facilitated consumers with a basic Sunday service. It is the expansion of the large retail multiples such as the Irish-owned Dunnes Stores and Superquinn and the foreign-owned Tesco, and the determination of the management of some of those companies to make almost every Sunday just another trading day, which has drastically changed the traditional pattern of Sunday working in the retail trade. It was the action of [569] Dunnes Stores in 1994 in effectively dictating to their workers that they had to work on Sundays which was the beginning of the present considerable difficulties. Over the past five years especially, workers have been under enormous pressure to work on Sunday, as is clearly shown by the long struggle between Dunnes Stores and their workers represented by the MANDATE trade union.

Sunday working has placed an enormous strain on the personal and family lives of many workers in the retail and other sectors. Other major developments, for example zero hour contracts, have also increased the stress on them. I commend the former Minister, Eithne Fitzgerald, for effectively bringing to an end in the legislation enacted before the general election the notorious practice of zero hour contracts. Workers have been forced to go on strike for their basic civil rights. The refusal by many companies to give a premium rate for Sunday working is another step in eroding the rights of workers.

Many of these developments are synonymous with the introduction of temporary and casual working. The living standards and family life of many workers have been put under dire threat by some of these developments. The workers with whom I spoke today reminded me that even in Thatcherite Britain the Government believed it was essential to give workers the right to opt out of Sunday working. Why is the Minister so hesitant to introduce this key principle here?

My colleague, Deputy O'Shea, with whom I wish to share my time, will deal with the damage caused to small traders. The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of major companies and their management. The long discussions Eithne Fitzgerald entered into in an effort to introduce fundamental reform in this area were well worthwhile. The organisation of working time legislation proves this.

I had to twice ask the Minister to debate this matter in the House. During a previous debate he said I was not present during all the Committee Stage debate on the Organisation of Working Time Act. I was a member of four committees in the previous Dáil, including the Committee of Public Accounts, and at times I found it difficult to attend all of them and to also be present in the House. Nevertheless, I have always had a profound interest in this matter.

Almost 30 years ago in my native area of Clondalkin my father and most of my uncles were forced to go on strike as a result of a proposal by the management of the paper mill to introduce compulsory working on Sunday. This proposal eventually led to a two centuries old tradition of paper making in Clondalkin coming to an end. The management insisted on Sunday working without giving workers a premium rate or time off. I remember the great sadness felt by the members of my family at this proposal. People who played for the local Round Towers GAA team, Clondalkin Celtic football team and the rugby club had their social life seriously disrupted [570] by Sunday working. While the workers stood up to management they were beaten into submission, so to speak. Less than a decade later the company was liquidated. This left a deep mark on my family and I am proud it has fallen to me to bring forward this legislation on behalf of the Labour Party.

My former colleague, Eithne Fitzgerald, must be commended on introducing the concept of minimum extra compensation for workers. Section 14 of the Organisation of Working Time Act provides a premium rate for all employees, regardless of whether they are covered by a collective agreement or joint labour committee decision. She modelled this Act closely on the European Working Time Directive and has provided considerable protection for Sunday workers. Under that Act Sundays must be included in the 35 hours weekly rest period to which employees are entitled, unless otherwise provided for in the contract of employment. The Organisation of Working Time Act provides for opting out of Sunday work by employees whose contract of employment does not state they must work on Sundays. Our trade union colleagues believe that Act should go much further, but the then Minister, Eithne Fitzgerald, intended to bring forward specific legislation. If a person works only on Sunday, under the Organisation of Working Time Act they are entitled to premium time off in lieu of pay.

The Organisation of Working Time Act repealed and improved existing legislation on holidays by increasing the basic entitlement from 15 to 20 days per annum and by making an equally significant improvement for part-time and contract workers by way of a pro rata increase in holiday entitlements. In effect, therefore, the Organisation of Working Time Act offered considerable improvement for working on Sundays, not least of which was it outlawed zero hour contracts.

My former colleague, Eithne Fitzgerald, noted last March in her contribution to the Protection of Workers (Shops) Bill, 1996, Deputy Tom Kitt's original Bill, that great difficulties are presented to legislators in attempting to protect Sunday workers. In her lengthy period as Minister of State responsible for labour she explored in great detail the possibility of introducing a referendum to ban Sunday opening by large multiples. The advice she received from the then Attorney General indicated that it was not possible to ban Sunday trading in large retail units and to leave the traditional small corner shop operating as before without taking the issue to the country by way of referendum. The former Minister held lengthy consultations with MANDATE, SIPTU and our other union colleagues as well as with the large retail chains and their representatives such as IBEC.

In the context of the difficulty of proceeding with constitutional change, on which the then Minister had embarked, she decided to implement the comprehensive Organisation of Working Time Act which greatly improved conditions [571] for all workers, including those who work on Sundays. When the Minister, Deputy Tom Kitt, introduced the Protection of Workers (Shops) Bill, 1996, my colleague, Eithne Fitzgerald, immediately accepted it and it went to the Select Committee on Enterprise and Employment, chaired by Deputy Bell. From talking to representatives of workers and business interests concerned, further consultation was necessary on some aspects of the Bill. The central principle of optional Sunday work was a valuable advance for retail Sunday workers.

If the general election had not intervened, the Protection of Workers (Shops), Bill, 1996, would be on the Statute Book. If we had a November general election, as I advocated — I would like to have waited for a November election — Fianna Fáil would not have been able to garner considerable support from Sunday shop workers because the principle of voluntary Sunday working would be enshrined in law. The Fianna Fáil Party, lead in this instance by the Minister, Deputy Tom Kitt, has betrayed one of the most vulnerable sectors of the workforce. The workers whom the Labour Party are seeking to protect are primarily women, often on low pay, casual workers or those on short-term contracts.

The participation rate of part-time employees has increased from 8.5 per cent to almost 14 per cent in the past eight years. In many aspects of modern society it is essential for both partners in a relationship to work if the family is to afford the basic necessities to survive. In our information clinics we often come in contact with part-time workers, including Sunday workers, in the retail trade who are desperately trying to maintain a mortgage, in many cases a local authority mortgage. For many such workers there is no choice about working on Sundays. They are compelled by the harsh circumstances of modern economic life to take whatever work is available, even under harsh conditions.

I appeal to the Ministers, Deputies Harney and Kitt, to support those families by accepting this Bill. I have made the minimum possible changes to the Bill as introduced by the Minister, Deputy Kitt. Essentially I took into account the passage of the Organisation of Working Time Bill. As in the earlier Bill, section 3 of this Bill does not apply to the relatives or owners of a shop, employees normally expected to work less than eight hours per week and employees who have been in the continual service of an employer for less than one month.

Section 4 is the core of the Bill and the reason we in the Labour Party demand the legislation should be enacted. Under this section an employee will not be obliged to work on a Sunday without his or her consent and it will be unlawful for an employer to require an employee to work on a Sunday without that consent. Section 5 provides that an employee who opts out of Sunday work for religious, family or other reasons shall not be discriminated against in [572] terms of salary, rotation of overtime, promotion or any other condition of employment. An employee who performs Sunday work under section 6 will be entitled to a whole or half day off the following week.

Section 7 provides for adequate notice of four working days to the employee from the employer and of three working days to the employer before the employee engages in Sunday work. Under section 8 an employer cannot contract out of the provisions of the Bill. This is also an important provision because it makes it impossible to draw up a contract which would negate the central principle of section 4. Section 9 allows an employee to present complaints about any aspect of Sunday work to a rights commissioner whose recommendations shall be binding. There is also provision for a right of appeal to the High Court on a point of law.

I commend the Protection of Workers (Shops) Bill, 1997 to the House. Its central principle of voluntary Sunday work would be a clear advance for retail workers. The rainbow Government was correct to accept this Bill and to send it to committee for necessary amendment. The appalling, uncaring and cynical attitude of the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, to his Bill is a slap in the face for shop workers. On their behalf, I implore him to have a change of heart and to accept the Bill tonight. He has often spoken of the need for partnership in the House and across the social spectrum. A central principle of partnership should be to ensure the essential rights of workers are respected, in this case the basic right to opt out of Sunday work.

I wish to share time with Deputies O'Shea and Gormley.

Mr. O'Shea: I compliment my colleague, Deputy Broughan, on introducing this important legislation. While deliberating on how I would contribute to the debate, I recalled the time we attended secondary school for a half day on Saturday morning and the postal delivery on Saturdays. We appear to be moving from the five day week put in place not long ago to making workers work on the Sabbath. For moral reasons working on Sunday is repugnant to some people. Sunday is generally a day of rest, a day for the family. The family is no longer a strong unit and society is poorer for that.

When I was growing up there were many small shops in Waterford city, some of which provided a living for entire families and others which provided a substantial addition to the income of the main earner. They were part of the community. Corner shops often carried families through financially difficult times until they cleared their debts. These shops were part of the social fabric. Unfortunately, I do not see the supermarkets which form large multiples knitting into the community as the corner shops and small supermarkets once did. However, during my period in the Department of Agriculture it became clear that the standard of layout, range of goods and [573] hygiene in smaller supermarkets and shops has improved in the past decade.

The Bill provides balance, and I compliment Deputy Tom Kitt on being its author in a former incarnation. However, nothing has changed. The Deputy is in Government and nothing has been done on this issue. The promises made in Opposition should be delivered on now. We must accept the competition in the marketplace; today we saw the fallout from the amalgamation of Waterford Foods and Avonmore. That happened in the context of changes across the retail sector. Approximately 60 per cent of groceries in the EU are sold through the multiples. That is the reality of the marketplace.

However, the rights of individuals must also be looked after. The Labour Party came from the trade union movement and will always look after the rights of workers. We are introducing this legislation because it is in line with the ethos of our party. It gives people a choice. If someone decides they want their Sunday for religious, family, sporting or leisure reasons, they will not be discriminated against by their employer. Difficulties may arise in this matter, but this should not deter us from doing what is right.

The employee has the right not to work on Sunday, but he or she must give proper notice to the employer under this Act, which only relates to those in the retail area. If the employee does not give due notice to the employer, that is tantamount to agreeing to work on Sunday. The arguments have been cogently marshalled by Deputy Broughan, and I will not repeat them. However, it will be gross hypocrisy on the Minister of State's part if he does not accept this legislation. He must ensure it passes speedily into law to deal in a balanced way with the rights of the individual worker and the realities of the employer in the marketplace.

Mr. Gormley: I thank Deputy Stagg for sharing his time and I commend Deputy Broughan and the Labour Party for this legislation. What I say may be branded conservative or even old-fashioned, but it must be said. Sunday is a day of worship and reflection. It is devoted to spirituality, when for once we can avoid the ugly spirit of consumerism and materialism which has infected society. Margaret Thatcher once said that there was no such thing as society, only individuals. In the late 1990s we can extend that premise by saying there is no such thing as society, only consumers.

Sunday trading is the logical extension of the consumerist ethic. There was a time when Sunday was a family day but materialism has undermined the family. Now the family day out no longer consists of a walk in the countryside, rather a visit to a ghastly shopping mall where children are fed junk food and everyone goes on an orgy of shopping. Shopping affirms the modern human being. As Eric Fromm put it, “If you are what you have, then the more you have the more of a human being you are”. Conversely, if you have less you [574] are less of a human being. That is the capitalist consumerist ethic which leads to such terrible discontentment in society. It is a philosophy based on unhappiness. Our society is based on an economic model which fosters greed and discontentment. If people were to say they were happy with their lot and did not require any more material possessions, the system would collapse. Therefore, we need more markets, more consumers, more advertising, discontentment and Sunday trading.

It is time somebody shouted halt. I commend Deputy Broughan's legislation because it questions this ethic. As politicians we have a duty to examine the way society is heading. Why is it that in a time of unprecedented economic prosperity we have more family breakdowns, drug addiction, crime and more suicides? Politicians and the church have not done their duty by questioning materialism. The present incumbent in the Vatican seems to endorse monopoly capitalism, which is the root cause of consumerism. The early essays of de Valera and Collins, the founding fathers of the State, question materialism. As we moved into the 1960s it became less fashionable to do so. We are now at a stage when we must look at issues such as the quality of life. Sunday trading has ruined the peaceful atmosphere of villages such as Sandymount, Rathmines and Donnybrook. Recently I attended a residents' association meeting at Nutley and it was pointed out that Sunday shopping in Merrion has ruined the peaceful day Sunday once was.

In Opposition Fianna Fáil gave a commitment to MANDATE that they would look at the issue of Sunday trading. They also gave a commitment to meet IBEC, ICTU and MANDATE. I hope that process has begun, but the key issue is that there is a voluntary opt-out for shop workers. If they do not want to work on Sunday, they should not have to work. Last December the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Kitt, the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, promised at a press conference to introduce statutory rights for shop workers so that they would not have to work on Sundays. I ask the Minister of State to honour those commitments and support the Bill.

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. T. Kitt): I thank Deputy Broughan for bringing forward the Bill.

What I did in Opposition was a very useful exercise. We had important debates on the Organisation of Working Time Bill with the then Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise and Employment, Eithne Fitzgerald. Deputy Rabbitte and other Deputies also spoke on this important issue. I recall Deputy Rabbitte asking the Taoiseach about the Bill on the Order of Business one morning, to which the Taoiseach [575] rightly said it was not perfect. My Bill was not perfect.

Mr. Broughan: It contained a good principle.

Mr. Stagg: If it was good enough for the Minister, it was good enough for us.

Mr. T. Kitt: Deputies who have been in the House for some time, including Deputy Stagg who has had ministerial experience, will be aware one does not have the same resources in Opposition. I introduced that Bill because of my interest in this area, which is very much——

Mr. Stagg: Do not make little of us, there is nothing wrong with it.

Mr. T. Kitt: I have looked at the situation since my appointment as Minister of State and having looked at the facts, figures and advice available I am convinced that I can do better, given that other issues have to be dealt with. Deputy Broughan raised the broader issue of Sunday trading, Deputy O'Shea mentioned the position of small shops and Deputy Gormley said that Sunday was traditionally a day of rest. The background to the commitment made by Fianna Fáil prior to the election is simple. MANDATE, an effective trade union, represents many workers who have legitimate concerns that need to be dealt with.

Mr. Stagg: I hope MANDATE is happy with the Minister of State.

Mr. Broughan: What about the promises the Minister of State made at Wynn's Hotel?

Mr. T. Kitt: I will refer to that.

Acting Chairman Mr. Browne, (Carlow-Kilkenny): The Deputy will have to allow the Minister of State an opportunity to reply.

Mr. T. Kitt: Every party was approached by MANDATE on the possibility of holding a referendum on Sunday trading. On behalf of my party, I gave an official response as follows:

Sunday has traditionally been a family day, a day of rest. With the increasing commercialisation of Sunday, a free for all has developed in the retail sector.

My views have not changed. I went on to say:

If re-elected to Government, we will undertake a consultative process with all the interested parties — owners, managers of retail outlets, both large and small, unions, consumers — with a view to regulating Sunday trading hours through consensus and agreement. We will have a fresh look, as a new [576] Government, at the legal and constitutional implications of any agreed solution arrived at.

Mr. Stagg: What did the Minister of State do?

Mr. Broughan: That was when it had been watered down. What did the Minister of State say when he launched the Bill?

Mr. T. Kitt: That is precisely what I am doing. People look at election commitments——

Mr. Stagg: The Minister of State is listening to the managers of the big stores.

Mr. T. Kitt: This is a democracy. We have a party system.

Mr. Rabbitte: This is not one of the Minister's easier speeches.

Acting Chairman: In fairness, the Minister must be given an opportunity to contribute.

Mr. T. Kitt: Deputy Rabbitte is right. This is part of democracy and I appreciate the gentlemen want to hear me. If they give me a chance we can continue the debate tomorrow.

Mr. Stagg: The Minister of State is stuck in a hole.

Mr. T. Kitt: Deputy Stagg is not making it easy to participate in the democratic process. If the Deputy gives me a chance he will recognise what I have to say is genuine.

Mr. Broughan: The Minister of State should live up to his words.

Mr. T. Kitt: I have undertaken a consultative process but perhaps I will first give the background to my position.

Mr. Stagg: Fudge.

Mr. T. Kitt: The Bill before us, which represents no more than a retabling of the measure introduced by me while in Opposition in December last year, must be viewed in the context of developments since that time. The major development has been the enactment of the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997, which was signed by the President in May 1997.

The Bill raises nothing new — all the issues mentioned by the Deputy were raised in the earlier debate. The eventual outcome of those discussions was reflected in the treatment of the Sunday working issue in the organisation of working time legislation. At the time I introduced my Private Members' Bill it was my view, following a number of discussions with the interests concerned — and, particularly with MANDATE, the shopworkers' union — that legislation to provide protection for those employed in shops which trade on Sundays by making Sunday working [577] voluntary for those employees and creating a minimum entitlement of time and a half for Sunday work was a feasible proposition.

Mr. Broughan: Why is it not feasible now?

Mr. T. Kitt: Since assuming office I have had the opportunity to examine the full circumstances leading to the development of the Sunday provision in the Organisation of Working Time Act.

Mr. Broughan: The Minister of State is listening to big business — Dunnes Stores.

Mr. T. Kitt: I have seen the detail of the extensive consultations which took place during 1996-7 with ICTU and IBEC on the transposition of the EU Working Time Directive into domestic legislation and am aware of the scope of the consensus reached between the previous Government and the social partners on the Act in question. This included a compromise agreement on a means of addressing Sunday working with which the directive did not deal in any meaningful way.

Mr. Stagg: Workers had to go on strike to protect their rights. They forced it out of them.

Mr. T. Kitt: The outcome of those discussions is worth noting. The transposing legislation, as enacted, provides that every employee, not just those in the retail trade, is entitled to one day off per week which must be Sunday unless Sunday working is specified in the employee's contract of employment.

Mr. Stagg: The Minister of State does not agree with this.

Mr. T. Kitt: What this means is that employees whose contracts of employment do not specify Sunday working have a measure of protection in the Organisation of Working Time Act.

Mr. Broughan: We know that, the Minister of State said it does not go far enough.

Mr. T. Kitt: In effect, voluntary Sunday working can be said to exist for these employees.

Mr. Stagg: That was in our Bill.

Mr. T. Kitt: If the employee is required to work on Sunday he or she must be rewarded with a Sunday premium unless Sunday working is otherwise built into the pay structure, for example, a shift premium for those working on a rotating shift. The level of this premium should be set at the going rate in the particular business sector. The Act describes a mechanism for arriving at this rate. The intention is that the statutory guarantee of an entitlement to a premium for Sunday working with the combination of maximum weekly working hours and minimum daily and weekly rest periods should ensure the development of Sunday trading will not be at the [578] expense of the health and safety considerations of the workers concerned.

Mr. Broughan: Why did the Minister of State introduce his own Bill?

Mr. Stagg: It was launched by the leader of his party and its main spokesperson.

Mr. T. Kitt: This background information has come to my attention since assuming office. I commend the work done by my predecessor, particularly in relation to zero hour contracts.

Mr. Broughan: The Minister of State was critical of her. She is no longer a Member of the House.

Mr. T. Kitt: I admit to being impressed by the depth of the process of consultation with the social partners and many other interested parties. On reflection, it has become evident to me that the Organisation of Working Time Bill as passed by the House earlier this year represented a compromise agreement brokered by the previous Administration which contained a delicate balance of differing concessions to the social partners.

Mr. Broughan: The Minister of State is reneging on his promise.

Mr. T. Kitt: In the circumstances, while I was not a party to that deal, I felt honour bound to respect it. As a consequence I had no problem signing in September last the commencement order bringing the Act into operation on a phased basis concluding next March but I am convinced more needs to be done.

Mr. Stagg: The Minister of State has done a U-turn.

Acting Chairman: Deputies will have the right of reply. They are interrupting far too often.

Mr. T. Kitt: Shortly after taking office I invited representatives of ICTU and IBEC to meet me to review voluntary Sunday working for shop workers.

Mr. Stagg: They want action, not more talk.

They have identified the problem. There is no need for further consultation.

Mr. T. Kitt: The Deputy is out of order. The Acting Chairman has asked him to behave but he continues to interrupt.

Mr. Stagg: The Minister of State is tempting me.

Acting Chairman: I will have to take a tougher line if Deputies continue to interrupt.

Mr. Broughan: We are fed up with U-turns.

[579] Acting Chairman: The Deputies will have the right of reply.

Mr. T. Kitt: In the course of these discussions it became increasingly evident that it was vitally important that any measures being contemplated to address voluntary Sunday working should not undermine the delicate balance underlying acceptance by both sides of the package reflected in the Organisation of Working Time Act.

Mr. Stagg: Shop workers have been listening to this waffle for 15 years.

Mr. T. Kitt: The representatives of IBEC indicated that they would be strenuously opposed to further legislative proposals on Sunday working and would regard such proposals as breaching the consensus forged on the Organisation of Working Time Act.

Mr. Broughan: The Minister of State should stand up to IBEC.

Mr. T. Kitt: IBEC appeared positively disposed to the idea of considering the possibility of agreeing a code of practice governing this area.

Mr. Stagg: IBEC convinced the Minister of State to drop his own Bill.

Mr. T. Kitt: While the ICTU representatives favoured some measure which would facilitate voluntary Sunday working they were conscious of the need not to interfere with the consensus reached in the Act.

Mr. Stagg: This would not interfere with it. Is the Minister of State saying MANDATE does not support it?

Mr. T. Kitt: As regards a code of practice, ICTU appeared to be of the view that, having regard to the competitive position within the retail trade, a non-binding code of this type could not be effective. I am outlining the factual position as I have found it since assuming office. I will continue if Deputy Stagg will allow me. Given this clarification of the relative positions of the social partners in the matter I wrote to ICTU and IBEC early in October——

Mr. Stagg: And the Minister was not very enthused by what IBEC said.

Mr. Broughan: The Minister is washing his hands of his responsibilities. He should take the initiative.

Mr. Stagg: The Minister knows the cure.

Acting Chairman: In fairness, I shall have to ask the Deputies to leave if they do not remain quiet. They cannot have the option of saying almost more than the Minister. I ask them to [580] allow the Minister to speak. Deputy Broughan will have the right of reply at the end of the debate.

Mr. T. Kitt: I wrote to these bodies suggesting, on the basis of our discussions, a way forward on the issue. I invited both parties to open discussions with one another with a view to exploring the possibility of an agreement addressing the issue being entered into between employer and employee representatives of the main players in the sector. I have offered my fullest assistance in this process by appointing a chairperson to preside over the discussions if this is considered to prove helpful.

Perhaps I should explain the rationale behind my approaching this issue in this way. Following my meetings with IBEC and ICTU, it was clear to me that significant obstacles stood in the way of progress on this sensitive and delicate issue. Nevertheless, I formed the view that, with continued goodwill on both sides, these obstacles could be overcome. I am satisfied that a partnership approach is the cornerstone of any initiative in this area——

Mr. Stagg: Rubbish.

Mr. T. Kitt: ——that would hold out the prospect of arriving at a successful conclusion.

Mr. Stagg: Codology.

Mr. T. Kitt: The essence of a partnership approach is the acceptance of responsibility by the parties concerned for attempting to reach an agreement to deal with the problem. ICTU has indicated its willingness to proceed with discussions and IBEC has indicated that it will be responding shortly. Accordingly, I hope that progress on this basis will be possible in the immediate future.

Mr. Broughan: No problem.

Mr. T. Kitt: Perhaps I should avail of this opportunity to place on the record some further background to the approach adopted in the 1997 Act on the issue of Sunday working. As Members will be aware, Sunday working always has been a feature of a broad range of sectors. Public utilities, health care, media and entertainment, hotels and catering, security and agriculture are just some with a longstanding tradition of Sunday working. In recent years the numbers working on Sundays and the sectors in which Sunday working is commonplace have been increasing. Continuous processing and round-the-clock production are typical features of our major industries where cost and competitive pressures require the optimum use of all resources. Inevitably, this has led to increased operating times for many industries. Statistics show that the number of employees working on Sundays in manufacturing and commerce generally has increased by 20 per cent in the past three years alone and that a total of 36 [581] per cent of the labour force now work on Sundays.

Sunday working is already recognised as premium time in many employments and, typically, is rewarded by an overtime rate or shift premium.

Mr. Broughan: What about shop workers?

Mr. T. Kitt: Rates of pay for Sunday work within the Joint Labour Committee system provide for premium pay for Sunday work in many sectors. The Labour Court, in its adjudication on the issue of Sunday working, has also recommended premium rates for Sunday working in a number of recent cases.

Thus, section 14 of the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997, is designed to put this accepted feature of rewarding work done on Sunday at a premium rate on a statutory footing for all employees, not merely those based in the retail trade.

Mr. Broughan: An achievement of former Minister of State, Eithne Fitzgerald.

Mr. T. Kitt: I accept that. The Act applies to all employees, not just to special sectors. With this Bill we shall have statutory protection for those employees who work on Sunday——

Mr. Stagg: To hell with shop workers.

Mr. T. Kitt: ——and legislation which responds to trends and working patterns. Ensuring that Sunday working is appropriately rewarded for all employees constitutes a fair response to the issue of Sunday working.

Mr. Broughan: Why then did the Minister introduce this Bill?

Mr. T. Kitt: Sunday working is another facet of so-called “atypical work” receiving increasing attention within the European Union. Recently, the social partners at European level——

Mr. Stagg: Did the Minister write this script himself?

Mr. T. Kitt: ——signed a framework agreement and forwarded it to the Commission. It is now with the Council for transmission into European legislation on the basis of Article 4.2 of the Social Protocol. It is expected that it will prove possible to have this agreement adopted before the end of this year.

Mr. Broughan: Again we have to wait on Europe.

Mr. T. Kitt: The framework agreement sets out general principles and minimum requirements relating to part-time work.

Mr. Stagg: The Minister does not have to await any of this, he could accept this Bill.

[582] Mr. T. Kitt: The aim of the agreement is to prevent discrimination against part-time workers and improve the quality of part-time work. It also aims to facilitate the development of part-time work on a voluntary basis, thereby contributing to flexibility in the organisation of working time. The agreement is based on the guiding principle that employees in new types of flexible work should not be discriminated against and, therefore, should receive treatment comparable with that meted out to permanent, full-time employees.

Mr. Broughan: A lot of codswallop.

Mr. T. Kitt: In so far as a proportion of Sunday workers may also work on a part-time basis, this new European Union proposal, when finalised, may also add to their protection in the workplace.

Mr. Stagg: This is just padding to put in the time. This has nothing to do with the issue.

Mr. Broughan: It is a feeble response to the Bill.

Acting Chairman: Deputies, please allow the Minister to finish.

Mr. T. Kitt: To return to the central issue, in responding to the Second Stage of the Protection of Workers (Shops) Bill, 1996, the Deputy's party colleague and then Minister, Eithne Fitzgerald, stated: “The details of the Bill need to be explored in a more mature, balanced and considered manner and will need to be discussed with the social partners and other interests”.

Mr. Stagg: We did that and Deputy Kitt did not agree with it at the time.

Mr. Broughan: The then Minister, Eithne Fitzgerald, accepted the Bill.

Acting Chairman: Deputies must desist.

Mr. T. Kitt: The Deputy's colleague said the details would have to be discussed with the social partners.

In engaging in the discussions referred to in my opening remarks, I am adopting precisely the same approach.

Mr. Stagg: It will take the Minister forever.

Mr. T. Kitt: In reflecting now on the decision of the outgoing Administration to accept my Bill on Second Stage, in the full knowledge of the absence of a consensus between the main parties on the issue, leading to inevitable difficulties for anyone attempting to further its aims, I can only conclude that decision was disingenuous in the extreme and was not taken in a spirit of generosity, as conveyed at the time.

[583] Mr. Broughan: The Minister has broken his own word. He is betraying himself.

Mr. T. Kitt: The Deputy made various comments about what he would do if the election was not held at that time.

Mr. Stagg: The Minister might say something other than what is written in the script.

Acting Chairman: Let the Minister finish.

Mr. T. Kitt: The decision to agree to my Bill was taken in the full knowledge that an election was looming. The Minister of the day had all the facts and it was an easy way out.

Mr. Broughan: So the Minister, in Opposition, was not serious.

Mr. Stagg: He was playing politics and being opportunistic.

Mr. T. Kitt: Accordingly, for the reasons I have spelt out——

Mr. Stagg: The Minister has run out of script. He is in trouble.

Acting Chairman: I will have to get order. If Deputies Broughan and Stagg do not remain quiet, I will have to ask them to leave the House and I do not want to do that. I ask them to let the Minister finish his contribution.

Mr. T. Kitt: Accordingly, for the reasons I have spelt out, the Government does not propose to accept this measure. Given the response of the social partners to my talks initiative, the pursuit of a legislative solution at this time would not be compatible with a partnership approach to the finding of a solution to the problem.

I thank the Chair for bringing the House to order because there is a serious issue at stake here.

Mr. Stagg: U-turn.

Mr. T. Kitt: The question of voluntary work on Sunday and the broader issue——

Mr. Stagg: Does the Minister agree with me?

Mr. T. Kitt: Let me put some points directly to the Deputy and perhaps he will respond rather than continuously interrupt me.

Mr. Stagg: The Minister's Whip would not let him accept the Bill.

Mr. T. Kitt: The right of workers to opt out of Sunday work and the broader issue of Sunday trading should be addressed.

Mr. Stagg: The Minister should not try to complicate matters.

[584] Mr. T. Kitt: I recall the time when the question of Dunnes Stores and others opening on Easter Sunday was raised during the term of the last Government. I publicly opposed such an approach and I believe the then Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, and others made public statements to the effect that it should not happen.

Mr. Stagg: This Bill will give the Minister the power.

Mr. T. Kitt: I agreed and it did not happen. I have heard contributions today from three Deputies in relation to this issue. I took a certain course of action——

Mr. Stagg: We cannot see any sign of it.

Mr. T. Kitt: ——from day one on this issue. I hope Deputy Broughan will have the opportunity some day to hold ministerial office.

Mr. Broughan: I hope so too.

Mr. Stagg: It might be sooner than the Minister thinks.

Mr. T. Kitt: Deputy Stagg has had such an opportunity. In those circumstances, one has a broader range of expertise and advice available to draft Bills and examine various options. One has recourse to the main players in respect of the social partners. In this instance, the two main players are ICTU and IBEC and another main player is the MANDATE trade union.

Mr. Broughan: Will the Minister give way to allow me ask two brief questions?

Mr. T. Kitt: This is not Question Time but I have no problem with that.

Mr. Broughan: I accept the Minister's point that the resources available to people in Opposition are fairly limited; we must all use the Library, write our own speeches and so on. The principle of volunteerism is enshrined in this Bill in that it gives workers the basic right to refuse to do Sunday work. I commend the Minister of State on introducing that Bill on his own initiative. He enshrined that principle in it, but now appears to be reneging on it. He is disappointing the House by being untrue to himself in reneging on a central principle in a Bill he introduced.

He referred to the difference between being in Government and in Opposition, but since his party went into Government it has allowed the large multiples, such as Tesco, to come here and dictate to our people what they will do on Sunday afternoons and under what conditions their staff will work. Is that not deplorable? There is a suspicion, to put it mildly, that the Fianna Fáil party is beholden to those multiples.

[585] Mr. T. Kitt: I reject that remark. That Bill was introduced at a time when the debate on it played an important part in highlighting this issue and I have no doubt a message went out loud and clear to the multinationals that Deputies were concerned about it.

Mr. Stagg: The Minister of State is playing politics with this.

Mr. T. Kitt: I have had many contacts with members of my party and across party lines on this issue. There are different views on it. Members of my party have serious concerns about the position of the small shopkeeper.

Mr. Stagg: And concerns about the big shopkeepers.

Mr. T. Kitt: My party leader, the Taoiseach, has serious concerns about this. I ask Deputies opposite to accept that, in good faith, I wish to deal with this in a particular way. Deputy Broughan, in effect, has copied my Bill. It was not perfect and now that I am in Government I am in a better position to judge it.

Mr. Stagg: Civil servants always tell a Minister a Bill is not perfect.

Mr. T. Kitt: I commend Deputy Broughan for introducing this Bill because by doing so he has put this issue before the Government. I had advice from within my Department and, more importantly, I consulted the social partners.

Mr. Stagg: The Minister of State is acting like Pontius Pilate.

Mr. T. Kitt: I have had extensive discussions with IBEC and ICTU and today I had correspondence and a lengthy discussion with representatives of MANDATE. I told them what I told Deputy Broughan.

Mr. Broughan: The Minister of State has stopped listening to the workers.

Mr. T. Kitt: I spoke to the representatives of the workers and asked them to accept that I can deal with this issue through facilitating this process and that my ambition is to deal not only with the voluntary aspect of Sunday work. Ideally, I would like that enshrined in an agreement and then to consider how it should be dealt through a legislative framework or by way of whatever other options are available. I would like the consultative process to also include the question of Sunday trading, including how many Sundays staff should work.

I discussed my view on this with representatives of MANDATE and, I believe, they will accept it, but they have to make their position clear. There is a view that Sunday trading is here to stay. One need only note the number of cars in the carpark of Cornelscourt on a Sunday to [586] know that. The issue is not whether to ban Sunday trading, but how to control it in everybody's interest.

Mr. Broughan: Why does the Minister of State not do that? He has had six months to do that.

Mr. T. Kitt: Regulating Sunday trading would be in the interests of the workers, the business and the public. Deputy Gormley made a good contribution on this and said he is conservative in his views on Sunday trading, but many people hold the same view, that Sunday is a family day and a rest day. That is the challenge that faces us. I would be the first to accept that I am an easy target tonight, but I have set out my position.

Mr. Broughan: Will the Minister indicate a date by which he will introduce legislation?

Mr. T. Kitt: I do not believe I could be much clearer.

Mr. Stagg: The Minister of State could not be much clearer.

Mr. T. Kitt: I had a response in writing from ICTU and I am satisfied with its response to this issue. The next step is to get IBEC's response.

Mr. Broughan: The Minister of State is listening to IBEC which has many constituent members, which must be the reason for not getting a specific response. The meeting I had with it was constructive. Another important player is MANDATE, with whom I met and with whom I look forward to having continued contact. That is the framework.

Mr. Stagg: That is not a framework.

Mr. T. Kitt: I am satisfied I raised the matter in Opposition. The Bill I put forward in Private Members' business was not perfect.

Mr. Stagg: If it was good enough for the Minister, it is good enough for us.

Mr. T. Kitt: Certain measures were initiated in the lifetime of the last Government, such as the Organisation of Working Time Bill, which I signed into law. I acknowledged the role of my predecessor, the then Minister, former Deputy Eithne Fitzgerald, in dealing with many of these issues.

Mr. Stagg: Belatedly.

Mr. T. Kitt: There is an outstanding number of issues to be dealt with in relation to Sunday trading.

Mr. Broughan: The Minister is backtracking.

Mr. T. Kitt: I am now sitting in the ministerial seat and I look forward to any assistance

[587] Deputies can give me regarding trade unions and IBEC——

Mr. Stagg: We could not be more helpful. We put a Bill into the Minister's lap and he will not take it.

Mr. T. Kitt: ——to try to advance this as speedily as possible through a process of social partnership.

Mr. Stagg: That is waffle.

Mr. Broughan: The Minister is endangering his party.

Mr. T. Kitt: The heckling is primarily from the Labour Party.

Mr. Stagg: I am surprised at the Minister. I know he is capable of much more. His heart is not in it.

Mr. T. Kitt: Social partnership has been central to the running of this country since 1987——

Mr. Stagg: The Minister's Whip will not allow him to accept the Bill——

Mr. T. Kitt: ——when Fianna Fáil initiated the process. I want this issue brought to centre stage in that process and everyone involved to put their views forward. I am willing to facilitate that process by providing an independent chairman. I have initiated the process and explained the problems relating to it.

Mr. Stagg: The Minister did not.

Mr. Broughan: He has backed down.

Mr. T. Kitt: Deputy Stagg had his opportunity when he was Minister dealing with many issues of this nature. We should try this process. I seek the co-operation of the social partners. I am convinced we can do it through that process.

Mr. Stanton: I commend Deputy Broughan on introducing this Bill, the core provision of which is that an employee should not be obliged to work on Sunday without his or her consent. Deputy Gormley addressed this issue succinctly when he said Sunday is traditionally a day of worship, a day for God. God was not mentioned tonight but for many people, including workers, it is an important concept.

I said the Minister was sincere in bringing forward this Bill. However, I am amazed that something as simple as this cannot be incorporated in what he says is his consensus approach and that he is not in a position to accept his Bill which was a sensible one at the time it was introduced.

There are only two countries in Europe that do not have restrictions on Sunday trading — Ireland and Sweden. In Germany no Sunday trading [588] is allowed, except for shops at train stations. In France only food shops open and there is no Sunday trading in Belgium. We are out of step with the majority of countries in Europe. It is time we get in step before the free for all in the retail trade takes off. We will not be able to stop it. The Minister said it is perhaps too late and that shopping centres are open on Sunday. The last time the Minister spoke on this he said shoppers were voting with their feet.

I represent a rural area in east Cork where there are three medium-sized towns. The family-owned businesses there are under increasing pressure to compete with mainly foreign multiples. They cannot compete. Those in family businesses must work seven days a week because they cannot afford to take on extra staff. Statistics show that these businesses, which are important in rural areas, are declining in number.

When the Minister of State is dealing with the various social partners he should seriously take this into account. On more than one occasion, concern has been expressed in this House about rural decline. I fear for the future if shops in rural areas have to close because they cannot compete, in particular due to Sunday trading. The argument has been made that people will spend more if shops are open on Sundays, but people only have a fixed amount of money to spend. Therefore, it does not make that much difference whether shops open on Sundays.

The problem of drugs in society was alluded to earlier. As a former career guidance counsellor who last June was dealing with suicidal students in various schools, I can tell the Minister of State that unless we start organising society so that families can spend more time together we will really go down the slippery slope. Mention was made of the fact that nowadays families are attracted to shopping malls on Sundays, but that is not healthy for society. Toys and all the other elements of consumerism are available in such malls. It is up to us to examine that issue.

I am glad the Minister of State is taking the matter seriously but I urge him to move before it is too late. The Minister of State said he was concerned about workers and the public generally. I would also stress the need to be concerned about small rural shops. We are witnessing an increase in the number of multiples. I represent a rural farming area where if the multiples become too powerful they will put pressure on suppliers who will be told to deal with the multiples under their conditions or else. The Minister of State must look at that matter also. Sandwiches, for example, are being flown in from Britain by some of these multiples, instead of being made in Ireland and jobs are being lost as a result. Seven day working has also led to an increase in casualisation of the work force. People need secure jobs and pressure will be put on families if there are only part-time jobs because they are low paid.

Sunday shopping is not an essential service. People do not have to shop on Sundays for food or clothes. The Minister of State mentioned other [589] services and compared them with shopping but there is no comparison. Nurses and doctors provide an essential service and have to work on Sundays, as do the fire brigade and the police. However, there is no reason for large shops to open on Sundays because they have six other days in the week during which to do so. In Germany shopping is even restricted on Saturdays, so where are we going? Traditionally, small corner shops opened on Sundays. That was how they made a few bob to survive. Large multiples, however, are selling everything so we will see more and more small shops closing down.

This Bill provides an essential opt out for workers who do not wish to work on Sundays. The Minister of State is right in saying that it is a first step but he has been a long time in taking it. If he is talking about rejecting this Bill then he is taking a step backwards. Sunday trading has resulted in very few new jobs being created as was shown by the Irish Productivity Centre in a recent study commissioned by the Minister of State's Department. Pension rights will be affected if there is too much casualisation. The Minister for Finance recently explained the problems in this regard. The social welfare system will come under increasing pressure if there are too many part-time jobs.

This is the fourth year in a row that Sunday trading has caused confrontation and it is time action was taken. People accepted that shops opened on Sundays coming up to Christmas. However, this is now an all year round practice. Last year shops wanted to open on Easter Sunday but, fortunately, that did not happen. Our legislation does not prevent shops from opening on such days. If a large store decides to open on Easter Sunday or Christmas day, the other large shops will be under pressure to follow their example. There is a danger that the small traditional shops in our towns and villages will be squeezed out in the war between the big supermarkets.

The Minister is one of the few people who has the power to act in this regard. I urge him to accept this Bill. If he introduces his own Bill, it will be a signal to the workers and the large stores that Fianna Fáil in Government will do another U-turn. We all know Fianna Fáil's record on U-turns.

Mr. O'Flynn: Fine Gael has one too.

Mr. Stanton: The Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Treacy, said the Minister, Deputy Tom Kitt, must be responsible now that he is in Government. I hope that does not mean he was irresponsible when in Opposition. I would hate to think he wasted our time by introducing a Bill about which he was not serious.

I know the Organisation of Working Time Act is on the Statute Book but I ask the Minister to accept this Bill which gives workers the right not to work on a Sunday. There must be an onus on [590] the Minister to respect that right even on religious grounds.

In the 1960s Fine Gael published The Just Society which sowed the seeds for many of the conditions we enjoy today. It was the catalyst where free education was concerned. This Bill attempts to take that a step further. I ask the Minister to accept it before the hypermarkets close all the small shops in our towns and villages. We cannot have consensus between a lion and a lamb and it is up to the Minister to take a stand on this issue.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Browne.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): When Gilbert and Sullivan produced the line “a policeman's lot is not a happy one” they never heard of an Opposition Member who became a Minister in a few short months and suddenly found that his lot was not a happy one having to hear his Bill being thrown back at him.

I find it unacceptable that people should be compelled to work on Sunday. It has been described here as a day of rest even if one leaves religion out of it, and there is no reason to do so. If one looks at Europe where religion is not very important, they seem to be more civilised than we are.

Sunday was always a day families spent together, and I feel sorry for parents or single members of a family who would do something which is in keeping with Sunday and the end of the week than simply working in a shop. For that reason, I would have little time for forcing anybody to work on Sunday.

I am not sure there is a need for Sunday opening. No doubt if one opens on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and somebody decides to stay open until 9 p.m., one will find cars in that shop's car park. If somebody decides to go one better and open until midnight, one will find people there also. There is no end to what people do. There is no time when a shop can close and have nobody there for the last hour; people will always go shopping at the last minute. They will always want something else. If shops were open 24 hours a day there would always be somebody who forgot milk, butter, etc.

Mention was made of Christmas Day. People would go shopping on Christmas Day if the shops were open but that does not mean the shops should be open to serve them. People should be more disciplined. It is not very difficult to plan shopping well in advance, as most housewives do.

Mr. T. Kitt: Not forgetting the husbands.

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): As an old fashioned person, I have done shopping only on rare occasions. In fairness, I do not believe we can pretend there is demand for Sunday shopping.

[591] If, as has been pointed out, some shop opens on Sunday, the neighbouring shops must compete with it and this impacts on the small family shops. We should be making a special effort to help the family grocer, the person who kept everybody going. When people did not have money, such shops gave many people food before they paid for it; often some of them did not get paid in full. These are the people for whom we should say enough is enough. The supermarkets can compete with them all week but there is no reason for them to compete with small shops on Sunday because small shopkeepers provided the facilities over the years. Such shops may be a little more expensive but they have a friendly atmosphere, they know the people and they can help them.

If Europe can give us a lead in most matters, I cannot see why we will not follow its example by simply leaving things as they are. I do not know who is applying the pressure. I think it is simply greed. Because the larger supermarkets have more space, more capacity, more goods and more staff, they want to keep selling.

There is another question: are the larger supermarkets paying wages to compensate for the time people must work? It is not enough to argue that if people work on Sundays, they will receive overtime payments. That does not compensate the people who have no choice. If somebody wants to work on a Sunday, that is fine. I remember working in England as a student almost 40 years ago. We only wanted enough to keep going and to get away on Sundays to see as much of London as possible. However, the real workers who were looking for more money would not take a job unless it offered work on Sunday. They could get double time for working on a Sunday which was a fair option for them. However, it is not enough to give double time to somebody who simply does not want to work on a Sunday. I would hate to have to give up my Sunday to work. It can be awkward having to take the odd 'phone call on a Sunday but having to go out to do a day's work is another matter. An opt out must be available.

I support the Bill which was originally introduced by the Minister of State. He may have been an irresponsible youth, according to one of his colleagues, but he will have to take a responsible approach now. I do not see why he cannot allow people to make a decision on Sunday working for themselves rather than compelling them to work.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Bradford.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed?


Mr. Bradford: I concur with the points made by Deputies Stanton, Browne and Broughan. The Bill introduced by the Minister of State is important in the context of this debate. He may [592] find himself in a difficult position but it does not help the political process and its reputation when a Member who proposed a certain measure questions it a few months later. I presume the Minister of State was sincere when he brought forward his Bill a few months ago but it now appears he is finding difficulty with this legislation. That does no service to the political process.

The substantive issue is Sunday trading and the protection of workers. I concur with Deputies' sentiments that we must ensure that those who do not wish to work on Sundays should not be forced to do so. The retail trade has changed substantially over the past few years and the future of small retailers in towns and villages is under threat. Deputy Stanton referred to the move beyond supermarkets to hypermarkets and that development will hold no commercial advantage as there is only so much money available to be spent on household provisions. The more hypermarkets and other large retail units there are the fewer people will be employed in the grocery and allied trades. In the long-term that will be bad for the rural economy in particular.

We must ensure that Sunday trading is kept to a minimal level. Deputy Stanton is aware of the wider European context and it appears that our interpretation of Sunday trading is comparatively liberal. Ireland may be generally conservative but as far as Sunday trading is concerned it appears that anything goes. That is not good for workers or the social environment. It is improper that so many people must work on Sundays. Given that modern society puts extra stresses on families we must not limit our view to the commercial aspects but must take into account the wider social context. Many families do not spend time together because both parents or one parent must work on a Sunday. There is an old saying that the family which prays together stays together and a family which speaks and eats together has some chance of staying together. We are allowing society to develop in a way which does not allow families to spend time together as in the past. We must look at decisions on Sunday trading, commercial law and the development of hyper markets from a social as well as a commercial and retail viewpoint.

I congratulate Deputy Broughan on his initiative. Although the Minister tried to explain why this legislation may not be appropriate at this time, politically he is sending a negative message not only in relation to the Bill but the political process in that legislation which was politically acceptable a number of months ago is no longer acceptable. The Minister should be courageous and brave enough to accept this Bill on Second Stage. If there are difficulties, the Bill may be amended on Committee Stage as the Minister sees fit.

Debate adjourned.